Monday, February 20, 2012


I wasn't going to bother commenting on the "Heartland" leaked documents. I mean, what is the actual story here:

"Morally and intellectually bankrupt right-wing-nut so called `think tank' caught engaging in morally and intellectually bankrupt behaviour shock horror."

Or is it

"Washed up has-beens and never-wases well outside the fringe of science get paid to say things that are demonstrably false."

Hold the presses. On second thoughts, don't bother. I challenge anyone, skeptic or otherwise, to say with a straight face that they actually thought that Heartland has ever been engaged in a genuine good-faith effort to improve the quality of public understanding of climate science.

But on the other hand, since they are threatening to sue anyone who dares to mention the documents...

Go ahead, make my day.


Hank Roberts said...

The memo read like fundraising "puffery" -- not meant to be believed except by the target audience.

"In areas where people believe they have reasonable knowledge of a product then they see through such language and are liable to rate such a product as inferior to rivals, but the opposite happens when a person doesn't have such knowledge."

Alex Harvey said...

Dear James,

How can you not mention that the strategy memo was fraudulent?

I presently find the ethics of the Heartland advocacy unclear. Is advocacy in and of itself immoral? I assume not.

So, for advocacy to be immoral, as you say it is, it would need to be advocacy for the interests of a few at the expense of the interests of everyone else.

I can't see any evidence that this condition is met, although I concede it remains a possibility.

Most of those who advocate for adaptation rather than mitigation - like the Heartland Institute - believe that there are severe consequences (economic) from mitigation policies that will have no benefit. This view typically sees the consequence of this economic damage to be potentially catastrophic.

So have I missed something in the Heartland documents that proves they were acting knowingly in the interests of a minority against the interests of a majority? I concede, I haven't actually read them.

Martin Vermeer said...

The straight face seems to be the problem

John Callender said...

Alex Harvey: It's news to me if Heartland is actually promoting "adaptation rather than mitigation", and I've read the documents. What they are doing, rather, is to push the notion that neither adaptation nor mitigation are necessary, since global warming might not be happening at all. For example, the documents detail their plans to pay someone to develop educational materials for distribution to public school science classes that falsely present climate science as an area that is _scientifically_ (as distinct from politically) controversial. That is, they are attempting to muddy the teaching of science to schoolchildren by presenting dubious criticisms of what is actually a consensus view as if those criticisms are legitimate parts of the ongoing scientific debate.

Also, that the 2012 strategy memo may have been faked does not undercut the points made by James in the original item, so failing to mention the possibly-faked document from among the larger set of apparently-legitimate ones (in a posting that did not make any attempt to go into the details of the documents themselves) is, to my mind, unremarkable.

crf said...

Alex Harvey, which lego man are you?

James Annan said...

"I presently find the ethics of the Heartland advocacy unclear."

OK, so come back to me when you have formed a view, and see if you can say with a straight face that you think that Heartland has ever been engaged in a genuine good-faith effort to improve the quality of public understanding of climate science.

Alex Harvey said...


I admire your honest assessment in the subsequent threads.

I want to answer your question with a very straight face. I hope you'll answer my question below.

You ask me if I "think that Heartland has ever been engaged in a genuine good-faith effort to improve the quality of public understanding of climate science."

Excuse me while I digress.

I think there is a fundamental problem that a vast number of otherwise intelligent people on both the consensus and the skeptic side do not seem to understand what is to me a fairly basic law of human nature:-

Most reasonably educated people tend to act in good faith. And if not, e.g. in the rarer case of a serious lack of integrity, then they at least tend to believe they are acting in good faith.

In the climate blogsophere it seems that a myth has arisen that people are not like this. It is said that skeptics are stupid, for example, despite that many if not most are obviously not stupid. Then, it is more often said that skeptics are dishonest.

Well, from where I am standing, I know enough skeptics personally to know that they are neither stupid nor dishonest.

Now, getting back to the Heartland Institute, I SUSPECT, given the above, that they do BELIEVE they are, to use your words, "engaged in a genuine good-faith effort to improve the quality of public understanding of climate science". And if they BELIEVE they are engaged in a "genuine good-faith effort...", then even if they are misguided and wrong, it remains a "genuine good-faith effort...".

It should be noted that this organisation is ideologically conservative. It is possible that this has distorted their view of the world.

So what about the ethics? I said the ethics are unclear to me, but only because I am not 100% sure I am aware of all the facts. But assuming I haven't missed an important fact, then yes, I fully believe they are engaged in advocacy in good faith.

So what about my premise? Do you agree that for Heartland's actions to be immoral it needs to be proven that they knowingly advocate for the interests of a few (which would have to include themselves) at the expense of the interests of everyone else?

Hank Roberts said...

> is advocacy in and of itself immoral?

Is "advocacy science" immoral?

Carrick said...

I think the only thing they were threatening to sue over was to represent the (to me anyway) obviously fake memo as a legitimate document from their organization. Better get it straight or there will be lawsuits afoot, or maybe just ninjas since it's Japan.

Carl C said...

For Alex - but "Heartland Institute" (and "American Enterprise Institute" et al ad nauseum) pose themselves as Pielke-ish "honest brokers" even though we all know that's bullshit. Hence when something like this is so glaringly exposed - it's a hell of a lot worse than "climategate" where all that came out of it is some climate scientists can be dicks in emails (rather than just on blogs ;-). Damn now even using their word "climategate" shows how these jerks skew everything to the right, like when they call things "pro-life" (which means "praise the lord & pass the ammunition") etc....

Alex Harvey said...

Hank Roberts - you tell me. No one can say that Kevin Trenberth, for instance, is not simultaneously an advocate-scientist. Or perhaps more relevant is the late Stephen H. Schneider who lamented the "double ethical bind" of the advocate-scientist. It appears to me that you wouldn't therefore want to assert that advocacy in general when mixed with science is unethical (and I tend to agree; it's not unethical, it's just problematic if you want your research to be taken seriously).

On the other hand, I suspect what you really want to say is that advocacy mixed with science is fine so long as it is advocacy for action on climate change. If you disagree, then you want to say it is unethical.

Obviously, this appears to be hypocritical.

James Annan said...

Alex, I'd say it is ok so long as the science is honest. Which in the case of many of the sceptics, simply is not the case. Talking of HI fundees, Bob Carter was a co-author on the nonsense (which, bad as it was, was then crassly misrepresented to the press) that we ripped apart not so long ago.

Alex Harvey said...

James, how do you know that in the case of "many of the skeptics" that the science is not "honest"? I am not going to defend Bob Carter because I don't consider him to be an original or influential thinker. But it makes no difference because you say "many of the skeptics". I challenge you to admit that this sweeping assertion is based on nothing other rumour and gut feeling.

James Annan said...

"rumour and gut feeling"? No, you are quite wrong here - I've looked into a number of the "sceptic" papers and found them shabby in the extreme. Chylek (here) played a ridiculous trick of cherry-picking single data points from an obviously noisy time series, contrary to all established norms in the field. Needless to say, his results fell apart as soon as any other data points were used.

I would certainly not claim that all of the desperately poor papers that the sceptics produce are dishonest, some are likely merely misguided.

Alex Harvey said...

James, I didn't see the link to your earlier post before. I followed it and even downloaded and read your paper.

Foster, G., J. D. Annan, P. D. Jones, M. E. Mann, B. Mullan, J. Renwick, J. Salinger, G. A. Schmidt, and K. E. Trenberth (2010), Comment on "Influence of the Southern Oscillation on tropospheric temperature" by J. D. McLean, C. R. de Freitas, and R. M. Carter, J. Geophys. Res., 115, D09110, doi:10.1029/2009JD012960.

I do note that nearly every one of these authors is a well known advocate-scientist (with the possible exceptions of Renwick and Mullan whom I have not heard of).

In reading the paper I note the following citations (in order), Trenberth et al. 2002; Jones 1989; Wigley 2000; Santer et al. 2001; Thompson et al. 2008; IPCC 2007. Ferraz-Mello 1981 is the only author cited without a dog in the global warming fight.

You make no mention of the fact that McLean et al. 2009 was published in a well regarded peer reviewed journal. There is no suggestion I am aware of that anything unorthodox occurred in publication of their paper. Thus, any suggestion that their paper was overtly "dishonest" means three reviewers somehow missed this - which would be strange.

You also haven't mentioned that McLean et al. were subsequently denied their right of reply by a replacement editor at JGR.

So the claim that McLean et al. acted "dishonestly" is not supported. It is quite possible and by Occam's Razor much more likely that they were simply mistaken (assuming your paper is correct).

This is certainly not evidence of dishonesty. Why would you make out that this is evidence of "dishonesty"? And the press release simply shows that McLean et al. too are advocate-scientists - recall the overhyping of Mann et al. 1998 that didn't help anyone.

In summary, two groups of advocate-scientists appear to bitterly disagree. It may well be that one group also did some bad science.

This is not support in any way for your sweeping claim about ethics - well that I can see.

Alex Harvey said...

James, we posted simultaneously. I also have read your response to Chylek a few months ago and found it fairly persuasive. Chylek, though, doesn't completely agree. Anyhow, what needs to be proved is that even one of these scientists is "dishonest" without a silent appeal to gut feeling (or your expert judgement which is also your expert gut feeling).

You don't seem to recognise - I suspect you are desensitised to it in fact - that accusing colleagues of "dishonesty" is a big deal. It is an extraordinary claim that requires extraordinary proof. And yet your only evidence is a demonstration of their bad arguments - bad arguments that were published in peer reviewed journals.

James Annan said...

Alex, even ignoring the well-known, what do you think I am an advocate of?

I chose my words and examples carefully. I agree that some bad papers are merely misguided.

If you knew anything about the peer-review process you will know that it only takes one dozy or overly-trusting editor, together with sharp practice from the authors, to sneak nonsense into even a "good" journal. Carter's response was not published because it was unpublishable - and they put it on the web, so you can check that for yourself.

Alex Harvey said...

James, I was going to reply but then realised we are going around in circles and find the discussion must have run its course. Suffice to say, I haven't been convinced that you have evidence of dishonesty. Regarding 'advocate' - well, I may have made an unjustified assumption. I gather you reject the designation 'advocate-scientist'?

James Annan said...


I don't know what you are using the term to mean nor your reasons for thinking it applies to me.

Carrick said...

Alex could you start by telling us what is it that makes one an activist scientist? It's another one of those terms like "cultural warrior" that people use, but I think escapes any meaningful definition.